NEW DELHI/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, Feb 16 (IANS): India Thursday summoned the Italian envoy and voiced concern over the killing of two fishermen by security officials of an Italian cargo vessel in the waters off Kerala. It asked Italy to ensure the ship's captain cooperates with Indian police.
Italy, however, maintained that the Italian navy personnel on board Enrica Lexie fired warning shots after they were allegedly attacked in international waters by people on an Indian fishing vessel.
The incident that killed two fishermen, one from Tamil Nadu and the other from Kerala, who were mistaken for pirates, took place Wednesday evening about 14 nautical miles off Alappuzha in Kerala.
M. Ganapathi, secretary (west) in the external affairs ministry, met Italian ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Montefort and asked him to ensure that the captain cooperates with Indian officials probing the incident.
The Italian envoy said the captain will cooperate with Kochi police.
Enrica Lexie is now berthed off the Kochi coast and its officials have been summoned by police for further investigations.
The Italian embassy, however, insisted that the ship was attacked and the firing was done only in self-defence.
"The Italian ship was attacked yesterday in international waters about 30 nautical miles of the south west coast of India.
"Italian navy personnel on board following international protocols after repeated warnings and after ascertaining from binoculars that the pirates were armed gradually fired some warning shots and the pirates withdrew," it said Thursday.
"Later, the master of the Italian ship was contacted by the Indian coast guards and requested to direct towards the Kochi harbour to offer information on the pirate attack. The master agreed and the ship is now in Kochi harbour," an embassy statement said.
"We are in touch with the Indian authorities and we shall work together to clarify all aspects of the incident," said the embassy.
The Kerala cabinet has decided to give Rs.500,000 as compensation each to the next of kin of the two fishermen.
Kerala Fisheries Minister K. Babu told IANS that it remained to be seen how the issue is settled as an Italian ship was involved.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has asked the home department to register a case.
The boat in which the two were shot dead had left for fishing a week ago from Kollam. Freddy, its owner who was present when the incident took place around 4.30 p.m. Wednesday, said there were 11 people on board.
Freddy, from Tamil Nadu, told reporters: "Except the two who were shot dead, all the other nine were fast asleep. I woke up hearing sounds similar to a gunshot. When I woke up I saw the two workers in a pool of blood.
"I scramed and shouted and all others also woke up, but by then it was too late."
The bodies of the two fishermen would be handed to relatives after an autopsy at the Medical College Hospital here.